The Management of Shattered Identity: German Films, 1945–57 at Harvard Art Museums
In conjunction with our special exhibition Inventur—Art in Germany, 1943–55, the Harvard Film Archive is screening five complementary German films from the period. The series is curated by Eric Rentschler, the Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures and director of graduate studies at Harvard University.
German postwar cinema occupies a liminal sector of film history, sandwiched between Nazi-era productions and the New German Cinema of the 1970s. The signatories of the 1962 Oberhausen Manifesto indicted the light entertainments of the Adenauer era (1949–63), dismissing its escapist comedies, Heimatfilme (“homeland films”), and melodramas as examples of a moribund “Papa’s cinema.” The judgment was dismissive and unfair. Postwar German cinema in fact gave rise to numerous innovative, critical, and formally striking productions. Professor Rentschler’s series revisits a period in film history that until recently has been overlooked, putting on display such buried treasures as Under the Bridges, which was shot on location in Berlin during the last months of the war; the avant-garde Jonas; and Peter Lorre’s single directorial exercise, The Lost One.
About tonight’s films:
Unter den Brücken (Under the Bridges; 1945)
Directed by Helmut Käutner; with Hannelore Schroth, Carl Raddatz, and Gustav Knuth
99 min., b/w, 16 mm; Germany, German with English subtitles
Although Helmut Käutner had worked in Germany during the Third Reich, making such films as Grosse Freiheit Nr. 7 (Port of Freedom No. 7; 1944), he managed to maintain a certain ideological independence. According to Mein Kampf director Erwin Leiser, Käutner’s wartime films maintain “the right to a free life as opposed to the requirements of discipline.” Käutner himself speaks of “the filmmakers’ stubbornness [not] to allow any of the horror which surrounded us to seep into our work.” Produced and filmed during the confused final months of World War II, Under the Bridges is considered by some critics to be Käutner’s finest film. The tale is focused on a romantic triangle and is set on a small boat that wends its way up and down the Havel near Berlin. Käutner took leave of the artifice of studios and, while bombs continued to fall on the Reich, shot on location. His film also took leave of UFA production values and departed from the Nazi era’s script-bound predilections, rediscovering the wonder of immediacy and physical reality—with no mention of the war at all.
Film ohne Titel (Film without a Title; 1948)
Directed by Rudolf Jugert; with Willy Frtisch, Hans Söhnker, Hildegard Knef, and Irene von Meyendorff
90 min., b/w, 35 mm; West Germany, German with English subtitles
One of the first postwar productions in Germany, Film without a Title centers on a director, a screenwriter, and an actor as they discuss making a new movie in Germany. Two “ordinary people”—Christine, a country girl, and Martin, a Berlin art dealer—insist that the film should be about their lives. Working during the Stunde Null or “zero hour” of German cinema, screenwriter Helmut Käutner (Under the Bridges) and director Rudolf Jugert break all the rules. They traverse a variety of genres—from romantic melodrama to war film, from comedy to pseudo-documentary—to tell and retell the stories of Christine and Martin, reflecting the confusion and uncertainty of the postwar situation. Between desolate memories of the war years and bright hopes for everyday life, the filmmakers subvert narrative convention by allowing spectators to go “behind the scenes” and create their own film.
The screenings will take place at the Harvard Film Archive, 24 Quincy Street, in Cambridge, just down from the Harvard Art Museums. For more information, please visit the HFA website or call 617-495-4700.